It wasn’t all that long ago that GroupMe dominated its competition at SXSW and “won” the group messaging wars.
The startup is now safely tucked inside of Skype, inside of Microsoft, spinning up curated events for groups under its new GroupMe Experiences product and partnerships with Amex.
Since claiming its victory, iPhone’s built-in group text messaging function has become more popular despite its crappy user experience, making GroupMe’s most obvious feature less in-demand.
ChillWith.me aims to pick up where GroupMe left off. It’s a new app launched today by Australian husband and wife team Alison Tan and Jimmy Lee. Beyond basic group messaging, the app is tailored specifically for making plans.
It sprung from the headache of never-ending email chains over something as simple as meeting up for drinks on Friday night. ChillWith.me allows a user to suggest a plan, a time and a place and invite friends (via Facebook Connect) to join the event. Friends can vote on things like the day or which venue they prefer. The messaging feature is there of course, as is the vital info — maps to the location, details of the plan, calendar notices, etc.
It is a better email chain, and a way better text message chain.
If ChillWith.me takes off, Lee and Tan’s idea for a business model is even more interesting to me. It’s the inverse of GroupMe’s Experiences offers. It doesn’t serve up options of one-off events to go to, sourced by a provider. Instead, ChillWith.me will reach out to the venues its users are considering going to.
Say my friends and I are deciding between our regular outdoor margarita spot or a new beer garden. ChillWith.me knows this, because we are voting on, or at least discussing, the venues using Foursquare’s location data. ChillWith.me will eventually get to the point where it reaches out to those venues and asks if they’d like to incentivize my friends by telling us about any happy hour deals, or perhaps reward us with an exclusive deal for bringing a large group. If it’s a popular restaurant that doesn’t need gimmicks like happy hour to bring in customers, they could still use ChillWith.me to suggest I come on a less-busy night of the week or inform me of special additions to the menu.
Whether ChillWith.me takes a cut of that, charges the venues a flat rate, or monetizes in some other way has yet to be worked out. This is all a long way off. The company only launched with its minimal viable product this week. But as a customer, I like the idea. I can coordinate with my friends and get one more thing out of my inbox, and — bonus! — now a restaurant or bar might actually be competing for my business.
“Small businesses know its important to connect with customers online but using Facebook and Twitter can be a waste of time sometimes, because they don’t know it will lead to a sale,” Lee says.
Tan still works at Lasoo, a shopping app in Australia, while Lee, a developer most recently working at Fairfax Media, has left to work on ChillWith.me full time. They’ll eventually raise a seed round of funding, Lee says.